ChildFund New Zealand Programmes Coordinator Sally Hewlett reflects on her recent cycling trip to Vietnam and one of the moving stories she heard while she was there.
Freshly back from an inspiring visit to Vietnam, there are so many things that I could write about to share. The work being done there is incredible. But I will focus here on just two – a woman named ‘Phuc’ and a long, hot cycle ride to try and help her out.
I was in Vietnam as the ChildFund Asia Programmes Coordinator, checking to ensure all our projects there are on-track and talking with the community to see how they are progressing. The result was a resounding ‘wonderful’ as we address issues of education, health, nutrition and child protection in one of the poorest provinces in Vietnam – Cao Bang, up on the northern border with China.
It was there that I met Phuc who both broke my heart and inspired me in equal proportions. She is a 32 year old widow, with two children and a mother-in-law to take care of – and right now is struggling to get enough food for her family. She works all the hours she can – from 6am to 6pm – in the fields in the crop season, and out in the forest collecting wood in the off season. This work is gruelling, made even harder by the fact she goes most days with hardly any food in her belly to fuel herself with.
Her beautiful oldest daughter, Duen, is 12, but looks no older than 8. She smiles constantly and strokes her mother’s leg when she gets a little upset talking to me about her situation. The food she has is nowhere near enough for her family. From September till next February will have to eat maize (that is intended for the animals). Phuc often goes without food and gets dizzy when she works. When I asked her what is one thing that would make life easier for her, she answered “I won’t marry again. I just want more food for my children. I don’t have any other wishes in the world”.
ChildFund New Zealand’s current Malnutrition Campaign will address this urgent need, and Phuc and her family will definitely benefit from it. Driven by the idea I had to do something to raise awareness for this need and raise money for it, the following two weeks were spent cycling the length of the country – from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City – with my sister.
Seemed like a good idea at the time….until I realised quite how hot Vietnam could be in the middle of June. So hot and so humid. We cycled through cities, villages, over mountains and along the coast on our journey, and were met everywhere by huge welcoming smiles and incredible landscape. Knowing we were doing the trip to raise money helped us get up some of the steep hills. One day, travelling from Na Trang to the highland are of Dalat, we had a 30km mountain to climb. After that it was (relatively) plain sailing! Thanks to all our wonderful friends and family, we managed to raise nearly $5,000.
So I am pleased to report that we are on track, with some more support from the generous kiwi public, to making sure that Phuc, Thoy, Duen and the rest of the families we support will be helped with nutritious food very soon.